Where has the spotlight been this BHM? On history or celebrity?

Author: Nick Anderson

Scrolling through the hundreds of news stories and articles that have been shared during Black History Month I found myself overwhelmed – a sense of moral obligation mixed with a panic. I had to read everything before the month was up!

But after catching myself reacting in this way, I realised I could probably sort Black History Month content into two groups – ‘Real’ Black History and tokenistic celebrity content.

 

It is from my reflections on these groupings that I have come to be typing on my laptop, engaging in a half blog, half rant – ‘blant’ we could call it – about

My Black History Month misgivings.

Don’t get me wrong, Black History Month is important. It’s a chance to celebrate the countless number of overlooked contributions Black and Brown people have made to the world. A time to retrain the spotlight, and to make our historical presence felt.

And there were a lot of very informative articles about Black History which I enjoyed reading and sharing. The type of articles I’d come to expect during BHM – stories about everyday Black and Brown people who had achieved great things and then whitewashed out of the history books.

But mixed among these triumphs were a vast amount of Black celebrity stories and interviews which made me feel uneasy.

These celebrity pieces presented an insight into the Black experience. Experiences that we as Black people can identify with or seek comfort from.

In a weird way it’s comforting to know it’s not just you, it’s them too – even a celebrity.

But, to me, these celebrity insights seemed too far removed from what October is meant to be about.

It’s not Black Experience Month, or Racism Awareness Month, its Black History Month and this year there just didn’t seem to be that much history flying about.

I mean, there is so much Black History to get through. We’ve been around a while. And we only have one short month to fit it all in, wave a celebratory flag and then go back to White history books we’ve always read. So where were all the Black history documentaries, the history feature articles, the books? We have a stage! But we seem to just have an emergency cast of celebrities talking about the Black experience.

The real question I’m asking is why.

Why have these celebrity stories been focused on by the media outlets?

And what does this tell us about where we’re at in terms of Anti Racism in this country? What does it tell us about the viewers?

Is the media assuming that their White audiences just aren’t interested in Black History? Are we just a nation that can’t engage with anything unless its centred on a celebrity?

What I really don’t get is that Black History is relatable. We don’t need celebrities to make it interesting. We can make it relate to today by reflecting on how Black achievement and Black excellence is as under reported today as it has been in the past. This shouldn’t even be seen as a Black Lives Matter thing. This is a Black History thing! The whitewashing of history is a symptom of racist attitudes but it’s not just about racism.

It’s about social history and the way a group of people have been oppressed by another and confined to the shadows. How a group of people and their lives can be deemed irrelevant and subsequently rendered invisible. The celebrity focus just seems irrelevant.

It also makes me question whether the White viewer is able to separate the celebrity from the person and the real issue? Yes, these celebrities are talking about their experiences with Racism, about being Black. But are audiences understanding the seriousness of the issues, or left thinking that these celebrities have overcome it so it can’t be that bad?

They won! They’re famous, accepted and rich!

Celebrities, with their huge followings can undoubtedly propel issues into a much-needed spotlight. But if there are too many issues and too many spotlights it will simply blind and confuse the audience.

My problem here isn’t with the celebrities but with the platforms, channels, newspapers and magazines who seem to be high jacking BHM for their own gains?

Putting in a token Black celebrity article to tick the Black History Month box, whilst simultaneously exploiting these same Black and Brown celebrities in the process.

Of course, I know that my argument here runs the risk of inciting the “Huh! That’s all the thanks we get!” response. I admit, it’s a difficult balance. There is a pressure to bring attention and raise awareness and develop understanding in only a month – and all for an apathetic audience.

 

But we need to do better.

The fight for equality is moving forward. To keep that going requires solid steps forward. It’s about picking battles carefully and planning.

This month’s battle is about Black history. It’s time to question “who is responsible for making it happen?”, “What are their motivations?” and “what else has been conveniently struck from the historical record?”

It may not be the typical prime time viewing material, but black history month has to be more than about entertainment.

It must shine a powerful light on inequality and those responsible for maintaining it.